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A Washington state lawmaker apologized today for refusing to participate in a prayer by a Muslim cleric that opened a session of the state legislature.
Republican Rep. Lois McMahan said in a prepared speech to her colleagues on the floor of the state House of Representatives that she would accept a “gracious invitation” from Imam Mohamad Joban to visit his Islamic Center of Olympia.
Washington state Republican Rep. Lois McMahan
“At that time I will personally deliver to him my apology for any offense that he may have experienced,” McMahan said.
At the conclusion of her statement, Republicans stood to applaud while the Democrats remained quietly seated.
On Monday, McMahan, an evangelical Christian, insisted she was not protesting but had personal reasons for remaining outside the House chamber during Joban’s prayer earlier that day.
“My God is not Muhammad,” she said in an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
But the lawmaker also indicated she acted out of “patriotism,” stating that Islam “is part and parcel with the attack on America. I just didn’t want to be there, be a part of that. Even though the mainstream Islamic religion doesn’t profess to hate America, nonetheless it spawns the groups that hate America.”
McMahan’s spokesman, Scott Peterson, maintained that her actions Monday were not meant as a public statement but were turned into an event by a Post-Intelligencer reporter seeking a story. Some news reports implied that McMahan and Republican Rep. Cary Condotta staged a walkout.
“First, she didn’t walk out on anyone, and, second, whatever she did was very personal,” Peterson told WorldNetDaily.
About 30 of McMahan’s colleagues also were missing from their desks in the chamber during the prayer, Peterson noted.
“She did nothing that would set her apart,” he said. “She was standing outside the chamber by the back door with many legislators of both parties.”
No intention to offend
This morning, McMahan told her colleagues on the floor that “nothing I said reflects the opinions of any other lawmaker, as far as I know.”
“I want to make it clear that it was not my intention to offend anyone by my actions or words,” she said. “Specifically, I want to say that it was not my intention to slight or show any ill will toward Imam Mohamad Joban or any other member of the Islamic faith, whose members I’m sure enjoy the freedom and opportunities of this country as much as I do.”
McMahan said she “would die for the right of any American to believe as he or she chooses.”
“It is my personal believe that God gave this individual right and extends it to everyone,” she said. “It has never been my intention to show disrespect to anyone else because of their deeply held religious beliefs and thereby cause an offense. In fact, I have made it a lifelong goal to live as much as possible, without causing offense to others.
“I apologize for offenses given and would like to ask forgiveness to any whom I have offended,” McMahan said. “It was never my intention for such offenses to occur in the first place.”
Yesterday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a Muslim lobby group in Washington, D.C., called on state and national Republican leaders to condemn the lawmakers’ actions and apologize to Washington’s Muslim community.
“How many times must American Muslims ask Republican leaders to repudiate Islamophobic hate within their own ranks?” said the group’s executive director, Nihad Awad.
Awad previously was public relations director for the Islamic Association of Palestine, a group considered by FBI counter-intelligence analysts to be a front for the Palestinian terror group Hamas. CAIR is a spin-off that organization.
Joban, a native of Indonesia, has served as imam of the Islamic Center of Olympia, in Lacey, Wash., since 1990. He also is a chaplain at state penitentiaries in Western Washington.
The opening prayer that begins each floor session in the state Senate and House following the Pledge of Allegiance has had other moments of controversy over the years, the Seattle Times reported today.
A former nun used the prayer to announce that she was a lesbian. In 1996, Democrats accused Republicans of inviting pastors to make political statements. Republicans have complained to Democrats for inviting poets to speak instead of pray, and they objected when a Native American healer gave the prayer.
Last year, Democrats initiated a new set of guidelines to encourage clergy to not stress one religion over another. The rules say: “Conclusion of the prayer should embrace the collective prayerful thoughts of all present in an ecumenical manner, rather than ‘in the name of’ a particular deity.”
A Republican leader persuaded House leaders to clarify the guidelines to make it clear that people can say, “In Jesus’ name we pray.”
Democratic Rep. Dennis Flannigan of Tacoma told the Times he believes the whole thing should be scrapped.
“I don’t think we need prayer,” he said. When prayer becomes “theater politics,” he said, “I think it sets us against each other.”
Joban is scheduled to give the opening prayer at this Friday’s session of the state House.